By: Aaron Shariq
The NFL preseason isn’t always the most entertaining event of the year, most of the game is the battle of the backups. Half the people on the field won’t be on the Bears roster once the regular season begins, some won’t even make a NFL roster. However, for a team in rebuild mode, the Bears have a lot riding on these preseason games.
A rebuilding team that went 3-13 in their last campaign, the Bears will have more than a few of position battles taking place between last year’s starters and this year’s new additions. Getting the roster correct for opening day begins today, a crucial job for head coach John Fox who may be on the hot seat if this year doesn’t go well.
The preseason also can serve as a window into the future for the Bears as many of their younger players will see significant playing time. With plenty riding on this game, here’s what Bears fans watching should pay close attention to.
Bears Interior Offensive Line
While the Bears had a forgettable 2016 campaign one area that stood as a strength was the interior of their offensive line. Rookie center Cody Whitehair, right guard Kyle Long and left guard Josh Sitton paved the way for rookie running back Jordan Howard to finish with the second most rushing yards in the NFL.
The Bears have made a switch, moving Long to left guard and Sitton to right guard. Why mess with a good thing, right? The move allows Sitton to go back to the position where he began his career and found success as well as allow Sitton to play with higher aggression off the line. Long is a strong and athletic guard who played some left guard in college. The position change for Long, which will be his third in as many years, could mean the Bears are looking for a more athletic guard who can pull from the left side. Learning the left side of the line could also set up Long for a future move to left tackle, only time will tell.
Where Exactly Is Kevin White?
Kevin White was Ryan Pace’s first draft selection since taking over for the Bears as GM. White, a former seventh overall pick, came into the league as an athletic receiver who possess great breakaway speed but needed work on his route running skills. White has reportedly shown better route running skills in camp this year but after two years on the Bears, we still don’t know exactly what White brings to the table.
Injuries caused White to miss his entire rookie season and when White began to show flashes of first round talent last year, he went down with another season ending injury. With Alshon Jeffrey no longer in Chicago and two young quarterbacks, the Bears are going to need some serious production out of their receiving group.
It will be interesting to see how White plays against Denver’s stifling defense and if White can keep the likes of Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton at bay for the starting position opposite of Cameron Meredith.
Leonard Floyd Begins Year Two
A multitude of reports have emerged from Bears training camp stating second year player Leonard Floyd looks faster, stronger and more comfortable. The biggest knock against Floyd last season was he was too small for the NFL after showing great pass rushing ability in college. This year Floyd has put on about 15 pounds which should allow him to fare better against big offensive linemen than he did a season ago. Still, last year Floyd showed the ability to get to the passer, recording seven sacks in his 12 games played.
Floyd’s rookie year was up and down, but mostly inconclusive due to the many injuries he was dealing with. The Bears believe they have a star in Floyd and as he gets bigger, healthier and more technically sound he will only get better. Floyd has looked impressive enough in camp to steal the starting spot away from Pernell McPhee. This is the first glimpse we will have into how Floyd looks in year two in Fangio’s system.
Battles in the Secondary
The Bears’ struggles in the secondary have been well documented in recent years. The Bears heavily addressed their front seven needs last offseason and this year it was the secondary’s turn. The Bears added Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper, Quintin Demps and Eddie Jackson to the mix and declined Kyle Fullers fifth year option. This will be the heaviest competition of the preseason.
The Bears need someone who can come in and cause turnovers. As a team, the secondary only posted eight interceptions last season which was tied for the second lowest total in the league. It will be imperative to the Bears success this season to find defensive backs who can cover and play the ball once it’s in the air.
The Rooks! (Not Named Trubisky)
For the Bears, the 2017 NFL Draft was an unconventional one to say the least. They started off by trading up one spot to get Mitch Trubisky, a player many believe would have been available to the Bears if they stayed with their third overall pick. In the second round, they drafted Adam Shaheen an athletic 6’6’’ tight end who dominated division-II competition but it may have been too soon to draft someone coming out of division-II football. In the fourth round the Bears took safety Eddie Jackson who is talented but found himself injured often in college and 5’6’’ running back Tarik Cohen. In round five, the Bears took another division-II player in Jordan Morgan.
With the current status of the team, the Bears need to find multiple strong contributors through each draft class. Last year they were able to do so, getting three all-rookie team members in Jordan Howard, Leonard Floyd and Cody Whitehair. This will be the first time we will witness the 2017 class in a NFL game.
Currently no rookies taken by the Bears in the 2017 draft are starters, or even second-string players for the preseason opener. However, Shaheen, Jackson and Cohen all have great opportunities to cement themselves into bigger roles with solid preseason play. With a coaching staff on the hot seat, wins are John Fox’s main concern so these rookies will need to earn their spots.
Mitch Trubisky and Mike Glennon
For the first time since 2009, the Bears have a new starting quarterback. The Bears addressed the quarterback position twice this offseason by signing Mike Glennon and drafting Mitch Trubisky. Glennon has a strong arm and a big frame but lacks mobility required to evade pass rushers. Glennon is little more than a placeholder until Trubisky is ready but if he plays well it may be enough to quiet the Trubisky chants in Chicago.
The Bears made headlines by trading up in the draft to take Trubisky at number two and Ryan Pace believes Trubisky is the teams quarterback of the future. As a rookie, this is the debut that most Bears fans will tune in to watch.
Trubisky showed an accurate arm in college, something that shouldn’t change in the pros. What we will be able to see in this game is how Trubisky reacts to the speed of the game and players around him. Watching Trubisky in college, his mobility is impressive but when he runs with the ball he does not like to slide, something that needs to change against the bigger and stronger defensive players in the NFL looking to punish quarterbacks.
A few reports have indicated that Trubisky may win the quarterback battle outright. While I do not share the same sentiment look for signs of development from Trubisky including pre-snap reads, ability to get in and out of the huddle and ability to execute a hard-count.